Crosscurrents: Art of the Southeastern Congo
September 30, 2011–January 8, 2012
Inspired by the Museum’s three finest works of African sculpture, Crosscurrents explores the art of three neighboring peoples whose territories are located in the river systems of the southeastern Congo. The Luba, Songye, and Hemba peoples have a long history of contact, while maintaining differences in language, social and political systems, cultural memory, and artistic expression. The exhibition is composed of works that are distinctive artistic representations of these peoples, and those that demonstrate a fluidity of cultural exchange and cross-influences.
The Museum’s superb Luba ceremonial axe exemplifies the stylistic elegance of Luba art and the importance of the image of woman as the source of political and religious authority. The ancestral figures of the socially engaged art of the Hemba people share a similar elegance of form but are primarily male figures. Songye art is marked by a more geometrical style and an emphasis on spiritual power. The Museum’s male and female prestige stools were first attributed to the hand of a Luba artist and are now identified as two of only fifteen such works known to have been produced by a Songye workshop near the intersection of Luba and Songye territories. This pair inspired the cross-cultural theme of the exhibition.
Lenders to the exhibition include the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; the Yale University Art Gallery; the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College; and a number of private collectors. John Pemberton III, Consulting Curator for African Art, SCMA, is the guest curator of Crosscurrents and the author of its accompanying catalogue. The exhibition is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maxine Weil Kunstadter, class of 1924, Fund, and the Edith Stenhouse Bingham, class of 1955, Art Museum Fund. Additional support is provided by Members of the Museum, as well as the Publications and Research Fund of SCMA.
Image credit: Unknown artist. African, Luba peoples. Ceremonial axe. 19th-20th centuries. Wood, iron. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe